Friday, September 3, 2010

Employers abuse migrant domestic workers in the Middle East

A tweet by Migrant Rights (@MigrantRights) on twitter on September 2, 2010 called my attention to rampant abuse of migrant domestic workers - many of whom are tortured and mistreated by employers - in the Middle East. The tweet provided a link to an article on The Economist, entitled Maids in the Middle East: Little better than slavery. The article sheds light on slavery-like conditions which migrant domestic workers from Asia and Africa endure in the Middle East. While reading the article, one question lingered in my mind: Are migrant domestic workers in the Middle East modern-day slaves?

According to The Economist, many migrant domestic workers are forced to work under conditions reminiscent of the slave trade era - long hours, little food, no time to rest, with little or no pay.

In August 2010, rights advocates were alarmed by the story of Lahanda Purage Ariyawathie, a 49-year-old Sri Lankan woman who was tortured by her employer in Saudi Arabia.

Ariyawathie, like many migrant workers looking for an opportunity to make a decent living abroad, left Sri Lanka to work as a housemaid for a Saudi family in Saudi Arabia. While in Saudi Arabia, Ariyawathie was mercilessly tortured by her employer. According to the BBC, her employer embedded a total of 24 nails (5cm/2inches long) into her body. Scars (cicatrices) on the victim's body (see photo above) are testament to her ordeal.

Ariyawathie's story of torture, physical and psychological trauma is shared by many migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East.

It is no secret that employers abuse migrant domestic workers in the Middle East with impunity. Rights groups have repeatedly called on governments in the region to protect domestic workers and bring perpetrators of such cruel and inhuman treatment of domestic workers to justice, but it remains to be seen whether governments in the region would heed the call. In the meantime, on a personal level, migrant workers should reconsider traveling to the the Middle East to work as housemaids.

Watch a slideshow of some graphic photos of Ariyawathie's injuries, here. Viewer discretion is advised.

*Photo of Ariyawathie's scars: The Sunday Leader.


  1. This is amazing. I am speechless at such cruelty. If the home countries of these migrant workers made conditions at home palatable, their citizens would not be exposed and subjected to such deplorable human degradation. It is quite upsetting. It just totally beats me what can be done to amend this situation. Very sad. Thanks for the write up Zuzeeko!

  2. This is inadmissible,how can human beings be treated this way!What has the international community said about this?Let them not just condemn the fund embezzlers,i think they should punish these employers as well.Our black African leaders should stop corruption and invest in our economies & by so doing they will create more jobs.African Leaders (Black) Stand up & Stop this Slave trade by investing in our economies.

  3. I'm glad we all agree that migrant workers are a particularly vulnerable group of people. With the right leadership in countries that typically export migrant workers, jobs would be created at home and the quest for "greener pastures" abroad discouraged. This will go a long way to reduce the number of victims of such barbarism.

    Better still, employers need to be educated about the contribution of migrant workers to the economy and the benefits of good working conditions to both employers and employees.

    More importantly, the authorities should crackdown on perpetrators of such unspeakable cruelty. A crackdown would send a strong message that abuse of migrant workers is not tolerated and ranks right up there with other hideous crimes.

    Thanks for your contributions.


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